Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 1: Running Records and Meaning Cueing System


By C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady – with adaptations from Marie Clay and Scholastic

As an undergraduate, I know I had coursework in reading related to Miscue Analysis. I remember having a whole book devoted to this study. However, I don’t remember really applying this knowledge until after having taught for 15 years. I attended a Reading Recovery workshop at that time, and heard from two teachers who described how to take a running record and then analyze the results to determine which strategies students were using or neglecting. That one workshop forever changed how I listened to my students read, and how I talked to parents about their child’s reading successes or difficulties.  About 8 years after that I had formal training in Reading Recovery methods (after my kids were grown and I could go back to school) and completed a Masters in Reading all because of that workshop!

So, what is a running record?

  • Written documentation of a child’s oral reading
  • Identifies accuracy of reading (independent, instructional, or hard)
  • Provides a record of strategies, errors, corrections, phrasing, fluency
  • Helps teachers identify cueing systems the child is using / neglecting
  • Documents progress over time

As a Reading Recovery teacher, I was able to take a running record each day for each child with whom I worked. The results helped me determine which verbal prompts and strategies I needed to emphasize – my instructional plan.

As a classroom teacher, you don’t have the luxury (or time) to do this on a daily basis. Hopefully you can find time to conduct a running record on your students (especially those who have difficulty reading) on a weekly or monthly basis. Click on how-to-do-a-running-recordlistening-man-icon

BUT, here’s the good news!! Even if you can’t take a running record on a regular basis, you can practice listening to students (during your guided reading small group sessions) and learn a little bit about how they process when they read. What kind of errors are they making?

There are 3 cueing systems (sources of information) which good readers utilize to comprehend text. The goal is for readers to integrate all 3 of them.

  1. (M) Meaning: Is the reader thinking about what makes sense?
  2. (S) Structure: Is the reader paying attention to the structure (syntax and grammar) of the text? Does it sound right?
  3. (V) Visual: Is the reader using the visual information of the letters? Does it look right?ven-diagram-cueing-systems

I will focus on (M) Meaning in Part I.

When a reader comes to a hard word, is he/she only trying to sound it out? Or are they thinking about what makes sense and sounds right? Hopefully, a little of each. A good reader looks at the letters, combined with the structure and meaning of the story to decide what that tricky word could be.

If this was the sentence in the story (supported with illustration):jack-and-jill-icon

Jack and Jill had a pail of water.

When the reader comes to pail, do they say pill or pal? – which both almost look right, but don’t make sense when using the picture for support. Do they say bucket? – which makes sense, but doesn’t look right. Or do they look at the picture, focus on the /p/ along with the /ai/ and realize it is pail? – because it makes sense, looks right, and sounds right in the sentence. Pail is another word for bucket.

How could I help this child use meaning?

If they had read the whole sentence (without attempting to self-correct it) as: Jack and Jill had a pill (or pal) of water.  I might say:

  •  “Look at the picture. Are they holding a pill / pal?” OR,
  • “Does that make sense for them to hold a pill / pal of water?” OR,
  • “They are holding something, but it doesn’t look like a pill / pal.? A pill is medicine, a pal is a friend.” OR,
  • “Could that word be bucket or pail?

If they had read the whole sentence (without attempting to SC it) as: Jack and Jill had a bucket of water. This child is using meaning!!! Hooray!! I might say:

  • “You are right, they look like they are holding a bucket. However, when we look at the word, if it was bucket you would expect it to begin with the letter ____. Do you see that letter here?” OR,
  • “What else could this word be that begins with a /p/?”  OR,
  • “You made it make sense because I also see them holding something like a bucket, but I know it’s not bucket because this word begins with a p. What else could it be so this word looks right?”

If there wasn’t a supporting illustration, you could also reason that pill or pal could make sense. Reading only to the point of error:                                    Jack and Jill had a pill. Or,  Jack and Jill had a pal.

Both of those DO seem to make sense and sound right. But phonetically pill and pal don’t look quite right if we use what we normally know about the sound the ai combination makes. I would have the child continue reading to the end of the sentence, then ask: “Did that make sense?” “Try that again and make it make sense. What could they have to hold water?”

Using Meaning to problem solve is the most important of the 3 cueing systems. Even if the child said “bucket” instead of “pail,” they still understood what was going on in the story. This error did not interrupt the comprehension of the text.

Do I want a child to correct all Meaning errors? No, not necessarily. It depends on the child or the complexity of the text. Suppose a child never uses meaning as a strategy and this one time they do. I would not have him/her correct it. I might not even mention it – because that was a small victory for that child. If I call attention that it was really pail and not bucket, it would probably be a little deflating for their ego.

Finally, here are some prompts the teacher can use to promote use of Meaning as a strategy.thinking-cap-icon

  • Did that make sense?
  • Look at the picture? What is happening?
  • What would make sense there?
  • Try _______. Would that make sense?
  • What is happening in the story?
  • Cover the word. Predict what it could be.
  • What do you think might happen next?
  • What do you expect ______ to do/say next?
  • Think about who is talking now.
  • Look at the first letter and the picture.

Happy Listening!!      Next time – Part 2 – Structure

Clip art courtesy of MS Office.

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